Miguel Wright, 30, quit his job just before the economy took a nosedive. He had worked as a sales rep at Bloomingdales, but decided to go it alone and create his own menswear company called Miguel Antoinne.
Starting a business is hard enough. Less than half of all start-ups survive two years, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. But starting a successful fashion business during a recession is nearly impossible because department stores are less likely to splurge on new designers. “The stars have to be aligned,” Wright said. “It must be good timing.”
In Wright’s case, the timing was clearly unfortunate as the bad economy rapidly chipped away at the high-end fashion industry. Every piece of good news Wright heard was accompanied by something bad. He pitched his product line to major department stores and was repeatedly turned down. “These stores were unable to take on the risk of investing in new brands at the time,” he said. “But the feedback was very good.”
So Wright made a key strategy change: rather than go after big companies, he targeted customers. “Distribution is paramount in this business. We needed a way to take our product directly to the customer,” he said.” To do so, he turned to the Internet, creating a carefully designed Web site and starting an e-commerce site. This allows him to reach and ship to an international audience.
Wright is one of several people to quit their job and start a fashion business in this tough economy. Rachel Dooley left her position as an attorney on the cusp of the recession to pursue her hobby making necklaces. But she had one special card up her sleeve: a connection to Gossip Girl star Blake Lively. Lively wore some of Dooley’s pieces on set and her jewelry line, Gemma Redux, has since attracted more celebrities and is selling well.
“In the past, a fashion designer would first need to get featured in Women’s Wear Daily or some other big glossy magazine, and then they’d get a ton of orders,” said Beth Schoenfeldt, a small business expert. “But that’s not happening now.”